Young Baek of Ona Coffee Sydney and Leible Coffee is the 2022 ASCA Australian Cup Tasters Champion.
Young correctly guessed 7/8 triangulations of coffees in a time of four minutes and 53 seconds, narrowly beating Sinwu Nam of Code Black Coffee in second place who also scored 7/8, and Karl Lee of KL Specialty Coffee Lab who scored 6/8 in third place.
“Wow. I thought I was dreaming. After they announced my name, my friends picked me up and carried me on their shoulders. It was like I was flying on a magic carpet. It was an insane moment,” Young recalls.
“I was just happy to be there on stage with some of my idols, training partners, co-workers and mentors. It was a surreal experience that will be remembered til I die.”
Brazilian coffee importer Minas Hill provided the coffees for the Australian Cup Tasters Championship. Young says distinguishing the odd coffee out of each triangulation was “really hard because they tasted so good”.
“On semi-finals day, there were some very light roasted coffees that were super juicy and the final day it was extra difficult because it felt like I was tasting the same coffees but processed differently, or vice versa with the same processing but different varietals, as well as the same coffees roasted ever so slightly different,” he says.
“My strategy was to put fourth the ones I was confident with and spend time on the difficult ones. The strategy almost went out the window when I went blank on the first two coffees, as it was a struggle to identify the differences in the hot stage. The third one was slightly easier and that’s when I started getting into rhythm. The final coffee was the toughest though. I tried every possible way to try figure it out but was confident with my choice and that it was different in aftertaste. But like any decision made in the heat of the moment, it could have been a wrong analysis so the result could have gone either way.”
Young works and trains with Ona Coffee Sydney and Leible Coffee. He would like to give a special thanks to his fiancé for the win and putting up with his obsession for coffee and the tremendous support given since they first met at his very first workplace in Sydney three years ago. He thanks Hansel Tanadi, a national sensory judge and long-time friend in Sydney who supported Young with his training in Sydney, and throughout his nationals campaign.
He also thanks Luna from Ona Coffee Melbourne for giving him his first cupping spoon in December 2021 at the Ona Coffee Christmas Party.
“That spoon sparked my interest in improving my sensory skills as well as to compete in cup tasting,” Young says. “Luna sparked my interest in improving my sensory skills as well as competing in cup tasting.”
He also credits Nuno Park of Fragment Coffee, 2022 ASCA Central Region Cup Tasters Champion and a 2022 Cup Tasters Finalist.
“Nuno Park built and gave me a solid foundation. From the basics of sensory analysis to how to structure practices, he is pretty much Mr Miyagi. He showed me how to taste, what to taste, all the fundamentals. He’s incredible,” Young says.
His list of thanks extends to Mitch from Ona Coffee in Canberra for the intensive coaching and sharing of his take on sensory evaluation, and cup tasting from a perspective based on science and experimentation with different cupping techniques. He also thanks to Alex Murfet, Jason Gao, and Jim Lin of Ona Coffee Sydney and its entire family for covering his shifts while he was preparing for the competition. Additionally, Young extends his thanks to Yama Kim, the 2018 World Cup Tasters Champion and Director/owner of Leible Coffee in Sydney for providing a place to train and answering his every question. And last but not least to Louie, the host of the Airbnb Young stayed at in Melbourne, who kindly gifted Young the cup from the apartment which he used on stage when he forgot to bring one to competition.
“That cup became my lucky cup – thank you Louie,” Young says.
“I’m by myself out there when I compete, but it’s a big team effort to get there. I’m just happy to be the the carrier of all the time and generosity they have given me. It pushes me to do my best.”
Young has been practicing daily, sometimes up to four to six times a day, for the past four to five months. He didn’t place at the ASCA Central Cup Tasters competition, finishing in sixth place with a score of 7/8, with one of the slowest times.
In the Australian Cup Tasters Finals, however, Young turned that scenario right around.
“I placed a lot of expectation on myself. I just wanted to do my best, and today that best was enough to get me the win, so I’m very lucky,” he says.
Young decided to miss his flight home Saturday night, and continue the celebrations, but says it was worth it.
“It’s been a crazy ride. To have started the cupping journey almost half a year ago. It just goes to show it can be done with the right team and enough effort. The key is to ask a lot of questions to and being consistent with practice. As long as you have the passion and energy I think almost anyone would want to help you and see you succeed. There is a vast amount coffees out there all with different flavour profiles for us to taste and learn about. The more open minded we are to different methods and perspective I think we can learn more about how we perceive and interpret taste together,” Young says.
Young will compete in the World Cup Tasters Championship, taking place in Athens, Greece from 22 to 24 June, 2023.